Knesset Passes ‘Major Coronavirus Law,’ Granting Gov’t More Power

israel coronavirus lockdown
A roadblock in Ramle, when the city was under lockdown, July 13. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Knesset late Wednesday night passed a law granting the government special powers for dealing with the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the terms of the so-called “major corona law,” which passed its third and final reading in the plenum by a 48-35 vote, the government has the authority to declare a state of emergency amid the coronavirus crisis and impose restrictions to curtail the renewed outbreak of the pandemic. The legislation will remain in effect until June 30, 2021.

The government will be permitted to declare a state of emergency if it is convinced that the coronavirus will spread even more and the public’s health will be at risk if it does not exercise the special powers granted to it by the law, this after the opinions of the health minister and Health Ministry were presented to it.

The government will also be able to extend the state of emergency at 60-day intervals, instead of the 45 days specified in the legislation’s original version, with the approval of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, until the law, which was passed as a temporary order, expires. The Knesset may annul the state of emergency, and the government must cancel the state of emergency if the circumstances that justify it no longer exist.

The government will be authorized to institute new emergency regulations only if a state of emergency has been declared due to the corona pandemic. These regulations may include restrictions on the conduct of individuals, as well as on businesses, activities that are open to the public, workplaces, events, public transport, educational institutions and welfare frameworks. The validity of such regulations shall not exceed 28 days. The validity of regulations that restrict activity in the private and public space shall not exceed 14 days. The government will be permitted to extend the validity of the regulations, provided that the state of emergency remains in effect, and until the temporary order expires.

The regulations the government will be permitted to issue will require the prior approval of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, or other committees that deal with issues that are related to the specific regulations. If a committee has not reached a decision on certain regulations, they will take effect automatically after 24 hours, and the committee will be able to either approve or reject them within a week or two, depending on the restrictions the regulations impose. If the relevant committee has not ruled on a regulation within seven days of its passage by the government, the Knesset Speaker will be empowered to remove the bill from the committee’s consideration and bring it to a vote in the full Knesset plenum.

The authority to approve or reject the measures will be transferred to four other committees — the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; the Education Committee; the Labor and Welfare Committee; and the Economic Affairs Committee. Each committee will have 14 days to overturn government regulations on activity related to activity under the committee’s oversight.

The law allows citizens to continue protesting with limited restrictions. However, it authorizes police to prevent citizens who live in locales deemed as coronavirus hotspots from leaving those areas to attend demonstrations.

Prior to the vote, Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) presented the bill and said, “In light of the government’s need to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, it is proposed to establish a legal framework that will define the powers that will be granted to the government in the coming year. The law will replace a series of arrangements that were established in the government’s emergency regulations, and will remain in effect until the end of June 2021. In the framework of the Constitution Committee’s deliberations on the bill, the committee made very significant changes to the government bill to make certain that the Knesset will maintain its powers for overseeing the government’s work, and to create the best possible balance between the need to provide a response to the corona pandemic and the need to protect the rights of the citizens of the State of Israel.”